Ritalin Addiction, Abuse and Treatment

In the early 1990s, Ritalin production dramatically increased in the U.S., which corresponded to an increase in Ritalin abuse and dependence.

Understanding Ritalin


Ritalin is a methylphenidate, which is a central nervous system stimulant. Methylphenidates have similar effects and pharmacological uses similar to amphetamines.

Ritalin comes in tablets and capsules and is mostly prescribed to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It comes in both sustained-release and extended-release compounds.

Although it has demonstrated significant efficacy in treating ADHD, it also comes with high abuse potential. In the surge of Ritalin prescriptions throughout the 1990s there was a consequent rise in abuse. If you or a family member are struggling with a Ritalin addiction, learn how to get help.

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Ritalin Abuse and Effects

Like amphetamines, which are also known as “speed” or “uppers,” Ritalin increases alertness and concentration. It is often abused by professionals, students and athletes to increase productivity. It is listed as a Schedule II federally controlled substance because of its high potential for abuse.

Consumption of methylphenidates like Ritalin is markedly higher in the United States than in other countries. This is likely due to how accessible it is. Many students who are prescribed Ritalin have given or sold their medication to other students to help them study. Students may also take Ritalin simply to feel high.

Ritalin is often the first drug prescribed upon the initial diagnosis of ADHD. Its effects are relatively short at about 1 to 4 hours. Of course, those who abuse Ritalin are likely to take larger doses to lengthen the time of its effects. People abusing Ritalin through inappropriate doses run the risk of negative side effects, including:

  • Suppressed appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Chest pain
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Overdose
  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Headache

Those with mood disorders, like bipolar disorder, that abuse the drug may experience even worse symptoms and behavior. This is because the synergistic effect of their disorder combined with the drug’s interaction can heighten side effects.

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Signs of a Ritalin Addiction

Just like other stimulants, Ritalin increases the levels of dopamine reaching neuron receptors in the brain. Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain essential for activation of the brain reward system. The brain reward system reinforces behavior that activates dopamine production. Ritalin influences a much higher amount of dopamine to reach receptors in the brain for those who don’t have ADHD. After repeated abuse, taking Ritalin basically becomes a learned behavior, spurring on the compulsion to take Ritalin regardless of consequences.

A telltale sign of a problem is continuing to use Ritalin despite wanting to quit. If someone recognizes that there are severe negative consequences from using Ritalin — such as straining relationships and spending unmanageable amounts of money on the drug — but still can’t quit on their own, an addiction is likely present. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders outlines criteria of addiction. Learn how professionals diagnose Ritalin addiction today.

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    Treatment for a Ritalin Addiction

    The course for treatment may be different depending on when the person started using Ritalin. Those prescribed it at a young age often have a harder time overcoming a physical and mental dependence on it, because most of their young life has been spent on it. Treatment programs for Ritalin addiction should target the underlying behaviors and thought processes that cause Ritalin use — whether it’s merely a habit, a recreational activity or rooted in a desire to excel in athletics or academia.

    Ritalin Abuse Statistics



    Over 16 percent of college students have taken methylphenidates, such as Ritalin, for recreational purposes.



    The United States produces and consumes approximately 85 percent of the world’s supply of Ritalin.



    Approximately 5.9 million children have been diagnosed with ADHD, for which the leading treatment is a Ritalin prescription.

    Getting over any addiction isn’t easy, and an addiction to Ritalin is no exception. Repeated use of the drug will lead to a physical dependence on it, spurring withdrawal symptoms when stopping. Withdrawal symptoms, such as depression and fatigue, can be serious and necessitate a reputable detox program.

    However, battling the physical side of an addiction to Ritalin is only part of recovery. To continue a successful recovery you will need the support of others. Support groups and behavioral therapy have helped countless people beat their addictions. Contact us now to get help taking control of your life.

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